Let's get the obvious bit over with: The early days of the Beatles, as reflected in Richard Lester's ebullient shout of freedom A Hard Day's Night, were all about the optimism of the early 1960s, a thrilling time when young people, and even some older ones, truly believed that the future held great promise. By the late '60s, disillusionment had set in, and the Beatles broke up.
There. Now let's talk about joy, and about wistfulness, because one so often trails the other, and both are woven into the DNA of A Hard Day's Night. To read it as a movie that the future proved wrong -- a movie that's somehow "about" our collective, historic innocence -- is to miss the glorious reality that A Hard Day's Night lives so fully in its particular present. At the end, as the band takes the stage for a televised appearance, the faces of the girls (and a few boys) in the audience complete the story that John, Paul, George, and Ringo set in motion at the beginning. If the audience looks incomprehensibly young, the Beatles themselves aren't that much older -- there's still hopefulness in them, too. No wonder these kids are lost in the moment and totally of a piece with it, beside themselves with elation shot through with longing. Everything they want out of life is up on that stage, both out of reach and theirs for the taking.
That's the beauty of A Hard Day's Night, and the source of its eternal freshness. It still looks impossibly youthful, especially in this restored version: In all its satiny black-and-white splendor, it feels more like today than yesterday.